Essential T: Pay More for Your Tacos

Check out Taco Maria in the O.C.

The very best Mexican foods start with the letter T—tacos, tortas, tlayudas. Here we showcase the tastiest “T” bites from the streets of L.A.

A dollar taco in L.A.—in most cases—is a small, flavorless, store bought tortilla filled with low grade meat from Smart and Final, and topped with watery salsa made from cheap ingredients. It’s cheaper in Mexico due to lower labor and food costs, but we shouldn’t shy away from paying more for quality ingredients and craft in L.A.

At the one-month-old Taco Maria, located at the cushy SoCo Collective, you will pay more for artisanal tortillas, and high-end ingredients. But what you’re really getting is a superior taste of Mexico. Their fillings are offered on cazuelas, or casserole dishes, to keep them warm while you assemble your own tortillas. Soon, at their bar, you’ll call out your tacos across the counter for a callejera experience, or street-style service.

The jardinero, or gardener’s taco, is upscale queso fundido meets your Mexican grandmother’s rajas con queso, or chile strips with cheese, sharpened by shitake mushrooms, a creamy Oaxacan cheese sauce, allium, and roasted poblano chile strips served on a supple handmade tortilla crafted from masa furnished by O.C’.s La Reina.

Chef Carlos Salgado honed his skills as a pastry chef at Coi and Commis in the Bay Area; his roots are in his family’s OC Mexican restaurant, La Siesta, but his inspiration comes from the new school of cooking found in the kitchens of the young, trailblazing chefs in Mexico.

On Salgado’s line, you’ll find Roland Rubalcava, whose family supplies the masa for the tortillas, but there are more than tacos going on here with this ambitious crew. Taco Maria is homegrown from local Mexican parentage, and in the right place to promote Mexican fine dining in a posh Orange County food court.  Modern Mexican has now arrived in the U.S. Maria, 3313 Hyland Ave Ste. C21, Costa Mesa, 714-538-8444.